When we said “Til Death Do Us Part”, forever didn’t seem so long.

Today, my parents are celebrating 57 years of marriage. 57! Bill and I have been married for 18. When we think about being together another 39 years before even catching up to them, we chuckle a little. Because if we are honest, there is something both comforting and daunting about the thought of that.  In a world where 50% of marriages end in divorce and people are choosing more and more not to get married, it made me reflect on what keeps people together and how they do it. Early in our marriage, I hit a point where all of the sudden I decided that I wasn’t sure I wanted to be married. I adored Bill, loved Bill, chased Bill down. We were friends, we dated, we married. Happy, happy. So why you ask would I suddenly decide that I didn’t want this life anymore? Well, at this point in the story, Bill and I had dated for 3 years and been married for just over 3. I don’t know if the 7 year itch is real or not but it certainly seemed to bite me in the ass as we got close. Not in a “I don’t love you way”, but in a “What am I doing with my life and is this really what I want” kinda way.  We had scraped up every penny we owned to purchase our first home (a 756 sq. foot mill cottage which is still my favorite house), both had steady jobs, and had become accustomed to our routine. Going on 7 years, this was the longest relationship either of us had been in. We enjoyed talking to each other, traveling, the outdoors, quietly sitting in the same room reading, live music, art, animals, life in general. He indulged my waking him up at 2 in the morning to go to Waffle House and I indulged him never taking the same route home, even when it was longer than necessary. He loved that I hummed to myself, hated that I smoked, and believed I had all the potential in the world. I loved his artistic nature, hated that he couldn’t make a decision, and believed he had all the potential in the world. I was his biggest fan and he was mine. But something was off. I wasn’t supposed to be married and living in Georgia. Nope, that was never the plan. I was supposed to be living in NYC, Boston, some cool urban place, or overseas in Europe. I was supposed to be speaking multiple languages, traveling, exploring, and living what I thought was a more adventurous life. But sometimes, what you think is the plan, isn’t. And here I was…working, married to a Midwest boy, living in the South, and panicking slightly about being stuck.

I am pretty hard headed and when I make a decision, I tend to go for it. That tenacity has served me well in life…but in this circumstance it was not leaning in our favor. Bill, who is the calm to my storm, refused to let me simply walk away without us talking through this and putting some time in to figure out what was going on. So after agreeing to see a counselor with him, and then not knowing what was to come, we drove to my parents house for the weekend. My parent’s home was always a calm, relaxing place for us. It was on the water, away from the chaos, and offered us a sense of peace. My parents were also role models for both of us. They had been a pillar of strength for me throughout childhood and life and they served as a unit to Bill. His parents had divorced when he was a young boy and it made an impact on him. My parents represented what he wanted in a marriage and had planned on having with me. They had been together ‘forever’ in our eyes and were easy to talk to. We shared with them the situation we were in, or rather, the situation I had created. I was ready to bolt from it, Bill was ready to fight to for it, and neither knew how it would end. We spent the weekend holed up with my parents. They allowed us to be vulnerable. My dad and Bill hung out and my mom and I talked extensively about the situation. I asked her how she and dad had been married for so long. She laughed. She said “Do you think I wake up every morning of my life, look over at your dad, and think – Wow, I won the lottery! It doesn’t work that way, Rob. Some days, it’s everything you think it should be. Some days it’s more than you could imagine. Other days, you wish there was a trade in model. But when it comes down to it, I can’t imagine not having your dad in my life. That’s the key. The pros of your dad far outweigh the cons.” And then she gently reminded me that we all have cons. She then also told me that no one person can fill 100% of our needs and we can’t fill 100% of theirs. More importantly, it’s unfair to expect them to. It takes all kinds of people to fill one’s life. Think about your circle of friends. They are all wonderful and even though they may have similar attributes in some cases, they all serve different roles. We have fun friends, serious friends, adventurous friends.  Friends we call in emergency situations. Friends we don’t get to see often but know would give us the shirt off their backs. Everything friends. Lifelong friends. New friends. The list goes on. She shared that while my dad fills many parts of her life, her friends fill others, her kids fill others, her passions and hobbies fill others, etc. When you look at it that way, it makes sense. Why would we expect one person to be able to fulfill all areas of our life? None of us can be, or do, all things. It’s not possible. But to find a partner that fills most and know that your interests, friends, colleagues and other relationships fill the others – that is a full life. And she was right.

During that visit, over 15 years ago now, my parents shared the truth. Marriage is not easy. It doesn’t just happen. It requires work. People have to choose to work at it. People have to choose not to get mired down by the cons or take the pros for granted. We work at everything else…our jobs and work relationships, maintaining our friendships, making new connections…why did we assume that once you got married the rest just fell into place. Well, the honeymoon period wears off, you get into your normal routine, you compromise for each other. When the rest of life is pulling at you, the first person you begin to take for granted tends to be the one closest to you – your spouse.  Yet, that is the person you should be working hardest to keep in your inner circle. And so, Bill and I took their sage advice to heart and entered into counseling. I won’t bore you with the details other than to say, it was hard. It was painful. It was honest. It was scary. It taught us to be better communicators and it uncovered parts of each of us that we didn’t know impacted our relationship. It was the best thing we could have done. And because of it, and our willingness to work, we made it through a rough patch when many others would have called it quits and simply walked away. We became stronger and better. We are who we are today because of it. It didn’t come easy. It was work. It is work. But, as my mom and dad have proven, and as Bill and I can happily attest, the work is worth it.  And now, when Bill looks at me lovingly and tells me he can’t wait to grow old with me, I actually look forward to sitting in a rocking chair beside him holding hands as opposed to finding the nearest exit in fear of losing myself. We have found a way to be uniquely ourselves and also an unbreakable unit. We celebrate each other, support each other, challenge each other, frustrate each other, laugh with each other and love each other. So today, July 16th, we raise our glasses to wish a Happy Anniversary to mom and dad Hirsch. To 57 years of marriage. And to the joy of celebrating life with someone who gets you (the good, the bad, and the ugly)…and still loves you.

 

Feminism is not a four letter word.

Feminism is not a hatred of men. It is not a bashing of men. It is not a dislike of men. It is not a dismissal of men. It is not an exclusion of men. Rather, it’s an inclusion of women.

It is simply the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It means an equality of the sexes. If it makes you feel better, you can even remove the word ‘feminism’ and replace it with the idea that you would like your daughter, sister, mom, spouse, partner, friend, etc. to have the same opportunities as men and not be kept from doing so because they are women.  But any way you slice it, that’s feminism. More importantly, it’s the idea that you wouldn’t want them treated differently (or less) because they are women. And yet, I am still often stunned by men’s willingness to treat women as they do in certain cases when they would cringe if that same behavior was bestowed upon the women in their lives. Personally, I don’t think progress can happen without men. I think the feminist movement needs men at the table when it comes to this topic, and more importantly, should want men at the table. I welcome men, and thank you for your participation. I beg you to continue working alongside us in the cause. It will take men calling other men out on the sexism they see to truly change things.  And, with as much progress as has occurred over the years, equal rights and treatment do not yet exist. Do not mistake progress for a finish line. Double standards are still very much alive and so much so that they are suffocating. A number of recent examples have brought this delicate subject back to the forefront for me. Not that it ever really goes away, but the current climate has tested how people treat each other and has sharpened the edges of the swords.

In a conversation with a friend shortly after the election results, I made the comment that this campaign would become an ongoing case study in gender and sexism. Regardless of how people felt (or still feel) about Hillary, the glaring discrepancies in treatment and judgement due to her being a woman are something that will be studied and debated for years to come. His response was something along the lines of “I had no idea, until this campaign, how very alive misogyny still is.” That is a bold, and saddening, statement coming from a minority male. This is someone who understands inequality and what it means to be misrepresented, underrepresented, and devalued.  And as much as he deals with when it comes to racism, he is not surprised that we saw a black man elected before a female, or in the case of this past election, that a completely unqualified male would even be considered over a more qualified female. Let us not even enter into account the sexist comments made by our current POTUS at various turns and the nonchalance in which people were willing to give him a pass on his horrendous behavior and disrespect towards women because they didn’t like the woman running against him. Incredible really. Every President receives criticism – comes with the territory – but Obama is the first to be dragged through the mud due to his race. Many are criticized for behavior (actual or made up), character, things dug up from their pasts, voting records, and more; but Obama had to deal with all that and then the mere fact that his skin color was darker than those before him. This post is NOT to generate a debate about our current President or which President has received more criticism. Nor is it a post to debate Hillary or Trump. It is about women and the double standards that still very much exist. With that being said, the 2016 campaign and the current state of our country provide ample examples of double standards and unequal treatment, some of which I will use further in my post. Do not misinterpret my use of certain examples as either condoning or supporting behaviors. They are simply examples that demonstrate my frustration in what is the real life world for a woman.  And frankly, I’m beyond sick of it.

It is one thing for me to work my way through male dominated industries and deal with the various comments, come-ons, inappropriate and unprofessional rhetoric, second guessing, interruptions, et al, that have accompanied my career personally. It is yet another to know that I am raising 3 daughters who will most likely face some of the exact same behavior. It is also the fact that women can often be the worst offenders when it comes to tearing down other women or simply remaining silent in order to survive themselves. I have seen it first hand and I refuse to take part in it. My role is to create room for other women, lift other women, support other women and prepare other women. Just as I do for the men. As I’ve grown in my career, I see how important that truly is. We have a responsibility to pave the path for those coming after us. I do not fear the strength or abilities of others or view them as a threat to my well being or next opportunity. And if that does creep in (as all humans will go into self preservation mode at times), I check myself at the door and put the train back on the tracks.

I can hear it already, some readers saying “oh, here we go”, or “I am so sick of hearing women complain that they don’t have equal opportunities”, or “what are you complaining about, you are a C-Suite SVP – clearly you had opportunity”. Those are statements of justification, statements of fear, statements to prevent change because the unknown doesn’t guarantee your power or pecking order. Those are statements that demonstrate the work to still be done. To be honest, the fact that women are still only paid 80 cents to the dollar that men are paid (for doing the exact same job) should speak for itself when talking about equality and work to still be done.

This is a passionate topic for me, as are all things we experience personally. There is no thoughtful flow to my examples on this, so I am just going to begin typing as I think of things, literally. Fortunately, since this is my personal blog and not a research paper requiring a well thought out thesis, hypothesis or supporting documentation, I can do as I damn well please.

Let’s start with the campaign and Hillary since I alluded to that earlier. There was a particular statement made in a recent article from New York Magazine that said, “A competent woman losing a job to an incompetent man is not an anomalous Election Day surprise; it is Tuesday in America.”

  • Put aside policy. Put aside party lines. Put aside economics. Put aside whether you think the campaign was poorly run. People were not ready to elect a woman, and even less so, this woman. The statements made about Hillary were appalling. They were equally appalling for Carly Fiorina when she was still in the race. Statements that were applied to her and tied to her credibility because she was female but not applied to the male’s credibility. Welcome to the world of double standards.
    • She doesn’t look presidential. It was said repeatedly. Did Trump look presidential? Did all the other candidates look presidential? What exactly does presidential look like? They didn’t like her hair. Her attire. Too little make up on some days. Too much on others.  Hell, Bernie is old and gray and frumpy…that didn’t keep people from thinking he was qualified, rather, some found it endearing. Trump is orange, has little hands and bizarre hair…that didn’t keep people from thinking he was qualified, rather, they gave him a pass on qualifications and just thought he was this crass billionaire who would “grow” into the role. And if they didn’t like the male candidate’s looks, they at least didn’t tie it back to the potential they believed their candidate had. Yet, they did with her. Time after time. In addition to her looks, her age and stamina were brought up repeatedly. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but last I checked Bernie and Trump are both older than Hillary.  So, to be blunt (because it is my blog), they are both uglier and older but it impacts her qualifications and not theirs.
      • Personally, I have seen this in action for years through my various companies. The men put on their suits, ties and shoes and come to work. Some have off the rack suits, some have custom suits, some are ironed, some are not. On occasion, I have heard men tell each other that they like their tie or shoes or a watch.  As a woman, I have to decide on what will be least judged. If I wear a wrap dress, will it be viewed as too feminine? If I wear a pant suit am I viewed as too masculine? If I wear heels vs flats, what will the reaction be? This all may sound frivolous until you are privy to the up and down glances of your figure if in a semi-form fitting dress. Until you have been privy to someone putting their hand on your back or shoulder and letting it linger too long. Until you are privy to someone stating, “that dress/suit is really flattering on you”. I have never heard them tell another man that his suit was “really flattering” on him. Why not just tell me I look sharp or that you like my suit? Until you are privy to someone saying “you look so much less severe with your hair down, less intimidating”. I didn’t know I had to look approachable or nice to do my job well. Yet, when I do wear it down in its naturally curly state, there are comments about my not being “business enough” or it being too wild. It’s hair people. And some of the men I’ve worked with have great hair and some have awful hair and most have no hair.  It is never tied to how approachable they are or how they do their jobs. Which leads me to…
    • She isn’t likable. Hillary was constantly criticized for being too poised. Too direct. Unapproachable. Aggressive. Unlikable. Not authentic. Too scripted. Yet, if she showed any glimmer of authenticity or humor, she was criticized for being “girly” and unable to be serious as a leader…as seen with her giggle and shudder during one of the debates. No one seems to care that Trump is highly unlikable. And if they do care, they are willing to dismiss it. They will never dismiss it for the woman. A woman can’t win in this arena. She is either viewed as less capable when she is likable and personable and sweet, or she is viewed as bitchy, unapproachable and unable to relate if she is straight to the point and doesn’t sugar coat. I didn’t realize that we were inviting Hillary to dinner or needed to be friends. I was under the impression that we were voting on a leader of the free world. Funny how many have said they voted for Trump because he is direct, straight forward, aggressive and they don’t care if people like him, they are just voting for him to run the country. Yet, her being aggressive or direct is viewed as completely the opposite.
      • There are studies upon studies of the bias against women based on how they look or act. The symphony orchestra ended up having to hold blind auditions to increase their female members because they found that if a woman was seen or even heard crossing the stage in her heels and auditioned, the likelihood of her getting a position decreased significantly (even if she was more talented). When they moved to blind auditions, (they had musicians perform behind a curtain and without shoes), the number of women hired increased substantially. Bias in action. There is another study that has people review resumes. Every resume has the same jobs and qualifications listed. The only thing different are the names. Those with names people assumed to be female were often deemed as less qualified than the same exact resume with an assumed man’s name. This bias was also true for names assumed to be of a minority group.
      • Let me use another personal example. I sat in succession planning for all our leaders this year. This is where we discuss the development of our employees, who is ready for promotion, what kind of development people need, if there are people who are not performing, etc.  There was a recurring trend that I ended up pointing out…the same adjectives that were being used to describe the men as high potential and stellar candidates were being used to describe the women as potentially hazardous. One example (and there are plenty): A male manager was described as being direct, bold, unafraid to challenge the status quo, willing to take a stance, etc. These were all used to described him as being strong, unafraid to make a decision even if it’s unpopular, innovative, leader. Those same adjectives were used to describe the female candidate (whose performance results were actually better than the male counterpart) as potentially being seen as uncooperative, aggressive, unapproachable, unlikable. SAME ADJECTIVES. When used for the male employee, they were strengths. When used for the female employee, they were ‘watch outs’. And these discussions always included the disclaimer for the female candidate of “She is terrific and I think she has the ability to do the next job…but” whereas with the male candidate it was simply prefaced as “He is awesome. A stud. He’d be great in this role.” Now, in all fairness, this is often unseen and unintentional. It is so ingrained in how we work as a society that it naturally flows. I am comforted slightly by the fact that in most cases as relates to my work environment, I am able to change the dynamic by bringing it to their attention. When it is pointed out and then realized, you have the ability to change behavior and also begin changing it of those you then witness doing the same thing. This example all ties back to ‘likability’ as well as comfort with those more like you and a conditioning from society that women should act one way and men another.
      • I can share with you numerous nicknames I have been called throughout my career, dragon lady and grim reaper being just two. And I can share personally that I have had people come to work for me and gotten to know me who will then say “you aren’t anything like I imagined” or “you’re nothing like they say”. What do they say?, I ask. They say you are tough. You have high expectations. You push people to stretch beyond. You challenge. (Keep in mind all of these are viewed as strengths for male leaders.) What they don’t hear or learn until they meet me is, yes, all those things are true. But I will also support you throughout, work alongside you, provide feedback when I think it will help or is necessary, and celebrate all your wins. I will go to battle with you. Those last parts aren’t often discussed from afar because I am pretty direct, I say it like I see it, I will call you out if required, I get to the point as I have found that being too wordy can lead to interruption and lack of listening even though my male counterparts allow each other to ramble aimlessly. Which leads me to…
    • She is interrupted constantly. Whether by Trump, Bernie or any other candidate. Hillary was interrupted far more often than the men. Watch the level of interruption that occurs to women by men. This is evident every day in our meeting rooms, board rooms and simple lunch conversations. A woman will be talking and a man will cut her off or interrupt. Now that I have brought it to your attention, pay attention next time and see how often you can see it. It’s almost mind numbing. It’s like counting the number of filler words in someone’s speech. It happens routinely and goes unchecked. Yet, if a woman interrupted a male counterpart, a finger would be pointed at her with an abrupt, “let me finish” in a patronizing tone. We have seen multiple examples of this in our current Congress.
      • A perfect example is from a Senate hearing a couple weeks back. A female Senator (Senator Harris) was asking questions at a high profile hearing. You are limited to the amount of time you have to ask questions and gather information. Senator Harris was asking for a response. During her questioning, a male Senator not only interrupted her but then told her to be courteous. In re-watching the tape several times, she was not being disrespectful. What she was being was direct, to the point, and not wasting time. She was asking tough questions. The male did not cut off any of the male Senators and many of them were just as direct and to the point with no mention of needing to extend courteous behavior. This same female Senator at another hearing less than a week later was again interrupted and described as ‘hysterical’ in later commentary. Senator Harris is far smarter than any of the men interrupting her or calling her names. And when compared to a male Senator who was just as dogged with his questioning, he wasn’t deemed hysterical. Only she was. Another example in the political arena that was glaring was towards Elizabeth Warren. Again, I don’t care what side of the aisle you sit on, this is about treatment being different towards men and towards women. When women make men uncomfortable, the men tend to try and shut it down. They do so by interrupting or mansplaining or ignoring. If those don’t work, they resort to name calling.
      • Forget politics, there was another recent example from a panel called “Pondering the Imponderables: The Biggest Questions of Cosmology” at The World Science Festival. These are exceptionally bright people discussing things that are well above my IQ level. The panel of physicists consisted of 6 men and 1 woman. The moderator was a man. He would throw out questions and then allow the panelists to answer. When he finally got to the female physicist, he would ask her a question and just as she started to answer, he would face the audience and begin describing her work or the “answer” to the question he posed to her about HER WORK. It became so obvious that an actual audience member wound up yelling “LET HER TALK”. While this may not be the best way to allow your frustration to surface, after a brief moment of stunned silence, the audience broke out into applause. They all saw it happening, it made them uncomfortable and it took another woman becoming frustrated enough in the audience to interrupt.

If you think this isn’t happening, pay close attention to every day life. Much of this is the result of media and society creating what they believe the norms to be for women and men…whether skinny, nice, submissive, etc. While we see that changing, it is still prevalent.  Here are a couple examples of how young this starts:

  • One of my daughters loves to play football. She kept coming home from school disappointed that she couldn’t play football with the boys. The boys always play at recess and she would try desperately to get involved. I told her to just go play. It is then that she told me that her gym teacher told her that girls weren’t allowed to play football and she couldn’t play. This is the message she got from a teacher. We are talking about recess football! She’s not trying to get padded up and on a field (although it irks her that girls can’t), she just wants to play recess ball. Are you kidding me? I told my girl, we can throw a football any day of the week, and to be honest, my spiral might beat out some of the boys and men she knows, and I don’t doubt hers will one day, too!
  • This same daughter loved Captain America. She wanted a pair of Captain America sneakers. So, we bought her a pair (in the boys department, of course). She proudly wore them to school and was super excited. And then, she never put them on again. When I asked her why she wasn’t wearing them, she said that a kid in school told her she was wearing “boy sneakers”. He made her feel bad. Shame should not be something kids are experiencing with each other over sneakers. I looked her square in the eyes and told her, “Honey, those aren’t boy sneakers or girl sneakers – they are Captain America sneakers, and they rock!”

Speaking of super heroes, let me touch on the recent release of  the film ‘Wonder Woman’. Female director, female lead. (And this movie release, in and of itself, received much criticism about pulling an indie female director into the big screen arena for the first time – which they’ve done with men on numerous occasions without any hesitation or doubt – as well as the discomfort of a theater in Texas having a female only showing. It did not exclude men as men could go see it at any of the other theaters – it simply gave women an opportunity to come view it together and celebrate female power. Which as we know, scares many.) I cannot tell you how much I adored this movie. It was full of empowerment. It demonstrated so many things I want my girls to know:

  • Men are wonderful but they are not required for survival or well being. They are a choice. Pick wisely so that you have a great partner who loves you for who you are.
  • Women can be strong and smart…and being pretty or thin or any other physical attribute has nothing to do with either of those things.
  • Do what’s right. Whether it hasn’t been done that way before, do what’s right.
  • Don’t let someone else keep you from doing something exceptional. Even if they doubt you, go do it anyway.
  • Be kind to others, even if they are not kind to you.
  • Stand up for yourself when under attack.
  • Help others who need you to stand up for them, too.
  • Don’t take things too personally or life too seriously all the time.
  • Be you. Undoubtedly you. Unwavering you.

The best compliment I have ever received occurred while walking out of this movie with my girls and hubby. One of my girls looked up at me and said “Mommy, you remind me of Wonder Woman only with curly hair.” They will grow up to know differently, but for the time being, I love knowing they think I’m Wonder Woman. Go be Wonder Women my girls. I will fight alongside you as you make your way through life, but from what I can see, you won’t need me to.

There are so many directions this blog could go and so many more examples that could be used but this post would never end. It has rambled in various directions as it is, so let’s just suffice it to say much more work is needed.

And now, I’m going to go polish my sword and arm bands.

(Wo)Man’s Best Friend

Maddy

14 years ago, my hubby and I drove countless hours to the middle of rural Georgia to pick up Madison, also known as Maddy or Moo Moo. Her brother, a handsome, male chocolate lab, had been purchased by a friend of ours and she told us about this last remaining puppy. Madison was unnamed at the time,  6 months old, and even as a full bred lab was unwanted for various reasons, including: being black, being female, and being defective (her tail was broken during birth and was deformed). She had been living in a barn. She was the runt and only puppy remaining. The brown pups and yellow pups had been snatched up and even the black male pups had been taken. She was small, awkward in her prancing (as puppies are), and covered in horse manure. She bounded towards us filled with pure joy and shining brown eyes. To us, she was perfect.

She smelled to high heaven and we drove home with the windows down wondering what we were thinking in picking up another random dog when we had just rescued a severely beaten Akita/Lab mix from the Humane Society a few months prior. We were in a new city, house in renovation mode, new jobs and two puppies – both rescues with issues. But, the chaos felt entirely normal for us and we have always been big believers in what we call the Noah Ark’s theory of two by two. Animals need buddies. We had two cats at home and this would make for two dogs. All was right in the world.

We introduced them to the beach, walks, fetch, couch snuggles. They were shameless food stealers. We spent too much time having to check Maddy’s poop to ensure the socks, shoes or other objects that made it into her mouth, made it out. Welcome to lab life.

They were the center of our lives for 5 years. And then we had 3 babies within an 18 month time period. After much worry about how they would adjust to little people taking over their space, they quickly assumed their roles. They were our protectors. Maddy had, at this point, grown into a big, beautiful, 85 lb healthy, strong lab. She was, hands down, the BEST catcher, of any dog we’ve ever had or known. She had a ferocious bark, but was pure sweetness. And there was no chance that she was going to do anything other than love and protect our girls.

She grew up with us and grew old with us. She went from bounding up the stairs to jump in our bed to not being able to climb the stairs at all. She went from swimming and running to not being able to walk. She went from hearing even the faintest of sounds and putting us on alert to becoming startled when we approached because she could no longer hear us. Yet, her eyes shined on and her unconditional love never wavered.

Yesterday, after 14 years together, we had to say goodbye to our sweet Maddy. While there is no question that this was the right thing for her, it was excruciating for us. But, it is also part of being a pet owner and solidified, by the pain we felt, how much love we had experienced. Our amazing and brave daughters chose to be by her side along with us, as did our other dog, Micah. We petted on her, cried together, talked to her, and simply loved her as she left us. It was a peaceful, beautiful, painful experience. And we would do it all again to have her in our lives.

We will miss you, Maddy. Hope you are chasing rabbits!

May the 4th be with you.

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I love Carrie Fisher. Not for any particular role she played, but for how she lived life. She lived out loud. I love her truth. Her pain. Her certainty of uncertainty. Her hope. Her grit. It is all horribly beautiful, as is life. Her courage…to be brave enough and vulnerable enough to share her story of life with a mental illness…will continue to help others who experience similar feelings/challenges but haven’t yet realized they are not alone.

Dare I say out loud that I relate. I have journal after journal of emotionally fluctuating messages throughout life. Some I no longer identify with and others that are still very relevant. I am grown, successful, have an incredible family, great friends, and am happy. But, ‘happy’ is also speckled with darkness and sadness and emptiness that is often unseen. As a highly functioning depressive, very few can understand the decision I make every day to get out of bed, or the sudden onslaught of sadness even when surrounded by a full life, amazing and supportive hubby, and magical children. Until recently, I had shared this with only a very few of my closest friends and, even then, the details are muted so not to freak anyone out. Or maybe there is an element of not wanting to be judged or treated differently. Or fear that people won’t understand that there are also many days that are bright and filled with laughter.

I originally shared these thoughts in December on Facebook when the world lost Carrie. Seems fitting (on this first May 4th since her death) to post it now publicly in honor of Carrie, and so that others know a piece of my story and aren’t afraid of their own stories. I’m hopeful that my decision to always keep on keeping on can impact and inspire others to share their truths or recognize it’s ok to simply sit in the void when necessary and then stand back up and move forward. Having a brother with bipolar disease, I also know the impact of mental illness on a loved one in addition to knowing it personally.

It is so critical that the world speak openly of mental illness and I applaud and admire Carrie for her advocacy in this important area. We must continue this work of hers. One of my life motto’s  is ‘Do epic shit’! Epic is relative however. It can be as big as an olympic medal or reaching a mountain peak, or as small as the difference a smile can make on one person’s life. And if something we do can positively impact another, I think that is pretty epic.

Remembering Carrie Fisher today and celebrating her kick-assery!

102 Days…

Yes, this is a political post. Although I’d prefer to think of it as a post not about politics but of character. Human character and simply doing the right things. Donald Trump has now surpassed the 100 day mark. I did not vote for Trump. And for those of you assuming I am a die hard liberal democrat, don’t be so quick to judge people. While I certainly have liberal tendencies, I am much more of an independent when it comes to casting my vote. I vote based on research and records and what I believe makes the most sense for our country holistically, regardless of party affiliation…as no candidate is going to be perfect. I also believe our system, in general, needs some serious overhaul. We have a system that has no federal term limits aside from the President. We have created a two party system with ‘lifers’ who spend more time jockeying to stay in their elected seats than they do working for the people who elected them. That’s not to say all politicians are bad. It is to say that we have lost the fundamental purpose of our government body. As an armchair quarterback, I realize it’s much easier for me to sit here professing solutions versus actually implementing them. With that being said, I still believe we need term limits for all positions. In addition, we need to look at the congressional maps and eliminate the massive amounts of gerrymandering that has occurred over the years. Lastly, whatever laws the congress passes to impact the American people should be the same laws they follow. For example, you change healthcare or retirement plans or whatever, you follow the plans of the people – not some carve out for your special elite asses. You aren’t special. You were elected by the American People to work for them, and are paid by them.

In the past, even when the President I voted for didn’t win, I never felt that the person in power was so unqualified that they would do something, intentional or otherwise (just as dangerous), to damage our country beyond repair. Yet, during Trump’s campaign and his first 100 days, Trump has succeeded in creating that kind of despair. Whether he can create the kind of damage to validate that despair is still to be determined as I remain somewhat hopeful that our branches of government, judicial system and that pesky thing called our constitution, can control some of his proposed insanity from occurring. But just as frightening is that he has created such a divide in people that for as many who feel despair, there are just as many who celebrate his being POTUS. This still amazes me. I say that not because I don’t understand how people can feel left behind, not because I don’t understand how people are voting based on their belief system, not that I don’t understand that everyone has a right to vote and do so as they see fit. I understand those things. But this. This is perplexing to me. Never, in my opinion, have we seen this kind of POTUS. One who is so entirely invested in himself. What’s perplexing is how people aren’t seeing this. The man is an egotistical, petulant man-child. He is unable to receive feedback of any kind (unless it agrees with him or praises him). How do you propose to run a country when you want to literally cut off communication with any person or outlet that doesn’t agree with you? How do you propose communicating your agenda and plans to the people of this country (not just your voter base) when you can’t answer hard questions but rather, walk out of interviews when the questions get hard? Well, simple, you mimic other dictators who cut off the press or create outlandish accusations about those that don’t support them and replace it with propaganda and alternative universes. Essentially, he creates his very own fake news.

As recently as a couple days ago, Trump stood in front of the NRA pledging his undying loyalty and promising to protect people’s 2nd amendment rights. And in that same time frame, had his administration look into ways in which he could sue the press when he doesn’t like what they say about him and ways to limit people’s 1st amendment rights. Let me provide you with a gun but take away your words. The man speaks of chocolate cake in the same sentence he mentions bombing Syria. Granted, every POTUS has a learning curve. Heck, any new position that any of us assumes has a learning curve. However, there are usually some prerequisites before we are thrown into the fire. 5th grade history might need to become a new requirement before being elected POTUS. So might some sort of basic mastery over the English language. Conflict resolution outside of “mine”, “wrong”, or “fake news” might be a useful tool, as well. But, now I’m just being nit-picky.

I struggle with the fact that there is so much greed and self interest in our political system that we have politicians, voters and companies willing to overlook the most glaring of issues all in the name of saving face, making a buck, securing their seat at the table, creating handouts for cronies, ensuring loyalty to their party line, and a laundry list of other items. In Trump’s case, it is as though common sense was thrown out the window and replaced with massive, almost poisonous, doses of delusions of grandeur.

Let’s put party lines aside for a minute. Here’s what pisses me off as a human: complicit acceptance of bad behavior, not holding people accountable, lying, doing something in your own self interest while knowing you will harm someone else, thinking the rules don’t apply to you, being disrespectful, calling people names, and narcissism…just to name a few. In general, the opposite of these actions is what any sane person would expect of their children, co-worker, spouse/partner, friend, or stranger (respect, kindness, honesty, accountability if something goes wrong, consequences, etc.). Yet, it seems to have become acceptable that people are willing to close their eyes to the craziness that is ensuing all in hopes that the one thing important to them will be resolved.

One of the constant themes I heard during the campaign was that Donald Trump is a good businessman and therefore, he is who we need to run this country. I call bullshit. Donald Trump is a good con man. He is not a good businessman. He has enough money to buy his way into things, to con people out of things, and to manipulate those that don’t know better. He makes for good TV. TV allows for editing. He has an entertainment factor in a train wreck kind of way. There are plenty of good business men/women in this world. Trump can’t even hold company with those individuals, until now. And it is solely his current position as POTUS that allows him to do so. You can see that he is filling cabinet seats with business people and cutting regulation or signing EAs to line their pockets…look into EPA, Education, Pipeline, etc. The only way he is able to hold court with them now is because he is in a situation to benefit them and demand their attention in turn. Something he gravely desires.

As a leader, I make it a point to surround myself with people smarter than me. They make me better. Trump, on the other hand, gets rid of anyone he thinks might have more expertise than him so that he can continue to proclaim that he is the smartest person in the room. Actually, he doesn’t care about one’s level of expertise, he simply claims he is the smartest person in the room at all times regardless. I think he is hoping to convince himself that if he says it enough, it will become true. I have a sad truth to share with him…never gonna happen, man.

As a business person, and as a human, below are a few (I am limiting this because we could fill a book with this shit, and we are only 100 days in…) things that irk me about our current situation and the hypocrisy that abounds:

  • Russia. Why are we ignoring the chance that Russia may have been involved in our election process? To me, this should merit a full blown independent investigation. Whether someone is R or D, Russia is not a country to be poo-pooed. Hell, companies sue each other and send cease and desist letters when they even think a competitor is doing something that impedes there space. People should be worried at the thought of Russia impeding our space and any ties to those in our administration. Whether you are R or D, conduct the investigation. Why would we hide from it, distract from it, or try to twist it? Investigate, just like any company would do if an employee were alleged of wrongdoing. If nothing is found to substantiate the claims, close the case and move on. If something is found to substantiate the case, hold people accountable and fix it.
  • Conflicts of Interest. Where do I even begin? As a former Chief Compliance Officer, every public company I’ve ever worked for has a conflicts of interest policy and ethical standards. Family members could not report to family members. People had to recuse themselves if they were making decisions that could impact current investments they had, companies they owned, boards they sat on, etc. It is often complicated, that is no different here. But don’t run for office if you are not willing to follow the rules and standards of the position. There isn’t a more blatant display of conflicts of interest than we have occurring in the White House at present. Trump’s son-in-law and daughter have been appointed as his advisers all while running their own businesses. Seems coincidental that as they travel to foreign countries or meet with heads of countries, business seems to follow…patents for Trump (38 to be specific) from China after a recent visit. Keep in mind that prior to him being President, these same patents had been denied. As recently as last week, Trump invited the President of the Philippines (Duterte) for a visit to the White House. If you are unfamiliar with Duterte or the relationship between the US and Philippines with him in office, it is contentious. Did I mention that Trump is opening a $150 million dollar property in the Philippines in which Ivanka Trump is shown on the advertisement? Oh, wait, isn’t she one of his appointed special advisers? Look away and you might not see the conflicts. Yes, my sarcasm is oozing but I can’t in my right mind, figure out how anyone thinks his dealings are ethical. Whether they cross a legal threshold or not (and I don’t claim to know either way), the nature of his dealings and that of his family should raise red flags. It should have people concerned as to whether he can actually run this country in the interest of the people vs the interest of his business and the Trump name. Let’s face it, whether he does anything as POTUS for the American people or not, he and the Trump empire are raking it in. Between the visibility the brand is getting to the tax dollars alone from Trump using his own property to hold meetings. And everything in-between. Trump cares about Trump. Period.
  • Campaigning for 2020. WTF? Before he even reached his 90 day mark, Trump registered to campaign for 2020. This allows him to generate money from donors as well as limit those that attend his functions to people who actually support him. While he is clearly allowed to do this, it again demonstrates his level of greed, narcissism and delusion. Do your fucking job before you start campaigning to stay in the role. Oh wait, he can’t focus on doing his job because the only thing he focuses on is comparing himself to Hillary or Obama or anyone else for that matter. True leadership has no pride of ownership. That is lost on him. He wants to own and take credit for everything. Until it goes south; then he is more than willing to pass blame, fire someone, or distract. Spend your time at the oval office lessening the learning curve and getting to know what is required of you. Stop campaigning to inflate your sense of self worth. The election is over, leave the campaign trail for another day, put the golf clubs down, and get to work. Did I mention that he recently launched a campaign ad to promote his successful first 100 days? A campaign ad! He is the current POTUS…what is he doing running a campaign ad? The election is over. Oh, that’s right, he’s partnering with the swamp, I mean Koch, brothers who keep putting money in his coffers so they can influence the decisions he makes regarding regulation that impact their companies.
  • People. The American People. We are a whole. Not just the voters who elected Trump. I am tired of hearing supporters claim that anyone who opposes Trump is a sore loser or a ‘snowflake’. Maybe you should tell Trump that the election is over and for him to move forward as well. I am not holding any grudges that Trump won, that’s what elections are for. I am appalled, though, at the willingness to stoop so low in dismissing his lack of character. Clinton’s affairs and behavior was thrown from here to kingdom come during the campaign, but we are going to simply allow a man with 5 children from 3 different baby momma’s who has had multiple affairs and sexual harassment allegations to waltz right in. Can you imagine if that same statement had been made about Obama…5 children from 3 different baby momma’s and multiple affairs…? The world would have had a hissy fit. Yet, people are still defending Trump’s character, or making excuses at a minimum.  Additionally, an entertainment reporter lost his job for partaking in a rude, classless, disrespectful conversation with Trump about grabbing women by the pussies, attempting to kiss married women, etc. but we allow Trump to waltz right in and again dismiss his behavior as “locker room”. Fox finally fired O’Reilly for inappropriate sexual harassment allegations after spending 13M to settle the claims. Sadly, the same hypocrisy was alive and well for O’Reilly that exists for Trump. O’Reilly wasn’t fired due to his inappropriate actions. He was fired because Fox began losing money because of his actions and couldn’t afford to shield him anymore. The money became more important. They left him in while he raked it in and let him go when he didn’t. Other elected officials were removed from their positions for saying racist, heinous things about others. Trump is dismissed with the wave of a hand and commentary such as “don’t believe what he says, pay attention to what he does”. Are you kidding me? That is not a person I would follow or support. So lay off the “this is the POTUS and you must respect him”.  I don’t succumb that easily. I highly respect the position of POTUS. I do not have to respect the person in that position if they can’t demonstrate respect themselves. Anyway you dress it up, a pig is still a pig.
  • Hatred. I am so saddened by the escalation of hateful rhetoric, crimes and other. Yes, we have long standing systemic issues related to race and religion in this country that desperately need to be addressed. People will debate all day long that Trump didn’t create the hatred. If you are really paying attention, however, you cannot deny that his rhetoric towards women, Mexicans, people of color, Muslims, Jews, etc., has inspired those who wholeheartedly believe their world is being taken over by these same people. With appointments of people like Bannon, and Trump’s unwillingness to authentically denounce people like Spencer or David Duke, he supports the hatred with his silence. As the leader of a free country, what you do and don’t say matters. It creates guidance that others follow. If nothing else, his behavior has magnified that America hasn’t come as far as we hoped. The level of fear the white christian population has over losing their jobs or superior standing by someone of color or a different gender is tangible. And sadly, I’m pretty sure that Jesus would be appalled at the number of Christians literally hiding behind their bibles as they continue to judge others and cast hate upon those not like them. You want to cry out that being gay is a sin yet you are standing behind a POTUS who has also sinned through infidelity. You don’t get to prioritize the level of sin you choose to forgive if you are truly going to go down that road. You can’t have it both ways, people. What we should really be concerned about is how are we going to help those whose jobs have been eliminated due to automation or other causes, not race or religion or gender. How do we provide trade education to ensure that the American population can fill jobs as the world changes around us? How do we create an environment in which people have the ability to survive? Seems working to find a solution would be more productive than banning people, calling people names, killing people or further marginalizing people due to fear. As much damage as that can create and might make some feel better in the short term (which is very sad), it has a proven track record of not being sustainable. Let’s not wait. And for those who need to hear it, everybody has a seat at my table. Door is always open. We can pour a cup of coffee and discuss…even if we don’t agree.

If you’ve made it to this point in reading the post, thanks for sticking around! To close it out, let me share a recent event with you. I was taking a walk with one of my daughters the other day. We came upon some litter. She went to pick it up and said to me “Why do people do this? There is all this talk about saving the planet and protecting our earth, but nobody wants to do the work. They expect someone else to do it. We all need to do it.” Profound words from a 10 year old. And ones we all could learn from. To make things better, we each have to be part of it. If you wait for it to directly impact you, it will be too late.

My daughter gives me hope that human decency will win in the end.

 

An Ode to Life

I’ll share a secret with you. I love music. Not much of a secret I know, but I love everything about it. Music has a universal ability to bring people together.  Music is a gift. Simply unwrap it to find an unending selection of beats and melodies and lyrics to match any emotion. I listen everywhere and anywhere (in the car, on a plane, in the office, while traveling, while walking, at home, at live shows, etc.). You get the picture; I adore music. Are you asking yourself yet what my love of music has to do with a blog titled ‘An Ode to Life’? Well, let me tell you.

Rewind one year. I am stuck in an airport due to travel delays. That seems par for the course considering I was having one of “those days”. You know the ones…where everything that could go wrong, does. I don’t remember all the specifics but know it at least included spilled coffee, tougher than normal business meetings, a mechanical issue that was keeping me from getting home to my family, blah, blah, blah. Realizing I couldn’t do anything about it other than change my attitude, I decided to write (as I often do). This is where music comes in. I decided to write about my crappy day…USING SONG TITLES.  In essence, my Ode to Life also became an Ode to Music. The result is below:

ODE TO LIFE  – by RHE

‘I Can’t Explain’ this ‘Crazy’ thing called life. We go through so many ‘Changes’ and come up against things that are ‘Hard to Handle’. ‘I Have My Moments’ when I feel like everything is ‘Underwater’ and I would like nothing more than a ‘Place To Hide’. ‘Something’s Gotta Give’, I think. Some ‘Bad Days’ are enough to cause anyone to throw ‘Two Hands Up’ in surrender. We think ‘No One’ understands, ‘Poor Poor Pitiful Me’, and want to scream ‘Hey Fuck You’ from the rooftops. But, just when I am feeling my most ‘Helpless’, ‘Running On Empty’ and needing ‘One More Cup of Coffee’, I ‘Look Around’ and think -‘Get It Together’, girl. An ‘Optimistic Thought’ crosses my mind and I realize ‘It’ll All Work Out’. I am ‘Crazy Lucky’; I have such a ‘Good Life’. ‘Our House’ is filled with ‘One Love’ because of my hubby and three girls. You ‘Gotta Be Wrong Sometimes’ to learn and become better. So, the lesson here…besides ‘Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow’…is ‘Don’t Give Up’. Tomorrow is a ‘New Day’ so ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’. ‘At This Point In My Life’, I don’t have time to worry about what others think. ‘You Are What You is’ so I would much prefer to live a ‘Life In Color’. ‘How Sweet It Is’ that ‘There’s Still My Joy’. ‘Darlin Do Not Fear’ what you don’t know. Rather, be brave and ‘Carry On’ being who you are. Sometimes life is a ‘Box of Rain’ yet without the rain, the sun wouldn’t feel so deliciously warm. ‘All We Are’ is multifaceted. If it is not worth worrying about, then ‘Let It Be’. I encourage everyone to ‘Join Together’ and ‘Let There Be Love’. Kindness towards others helps them get through tough days. When at your wits end, ask yourself how bad it really is and ‘Let Your Troubles Roll By’. Time moves swiftly and we only have one life to live so ensure that you occasionally slow down long enough to ‘Take It Easy’. When you think you are alone, remember that ‘You Are Not The Only One’ and ‘You’ve Got A Friend’. Life is hard; be kind to yourself. I wish you much ‘Peace’ and love. Have a ‘Beautiful Day’.

This Ode made me think about a tune by The Script titled: ‘Without Those Songs’. Take a listen.  https://youtu.be/0HoERMQdtgo

I, for one, couldn’t imagine life without those songs.

So, enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What is one of your favorite songs or one of your favorite artists? Let me know below in the comments. All genres welcome. Think of the cool play list we could create. I’ll kick it off in the comment section…

(And a big shout out to the handful of musicians/bands whose tunes were part of this ode. In no particular order: Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, The Who, CSNY, Beastie Boys, Alicia Keys, Bob Marley, O.A.R, One Republic, Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead, Blues Traveler, David Bowie, The Eagles, Better Than Ezra, Nat King Cole, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, The Black Crowes, Otis Redding, Peter Gabriel, REM, Indigo Girls, James Taylor, Tracy Chapman, Tom Petty, Carbon Leaf, Brett Dennen, The Beatles, Joshua Radin…)

I’ll raise a glass to that…

So, here it goes. My very first blog entry…and it’s scary. I have always loved to write, to express my thoughts via the written word. Yet, I have always found a reason not to transition my words from my own personal journal pages to ones that others could see. Thoughts race through my mind as I begin to type: Will anyone read it? Does anyone care what I have to say? Actually, what do I have to say? What is the purpose? Who am I talking to? Will people judge? And so many other self-imposed questions of doubt. Until, finally, I told the internal voices to hush. Quiet down in there! Because ultimately, if I were to answer the above questions, it doesn’t matter if anyone reads it. (Well, it does matter, but it shouldn’t matter. I am a work in progress, people, cut me some slack.) My words are mine. They are for me (and my girls in the future). The purpose is to have a platform in which I can pour my random thoughts, emotions, opinions, life lessons, miscellaneous creative writings, and anything else that might make me feel the need or desire to write. If I can inspire, connect, challenge, encourage, generate conversations or make others feel something along the way, that is a huge bonus.

Why on this random Wednesday did I finally bite the bullet and begin my first blog? Oddly enough, I found myself prompted by this fabulous commercial that a friend shared. https://youtu.be/8wYXw4K0A3g  Not only do I love it, but it is my life work at this point, personally and professionally. It encompasses pieces of what I do in my current role as a change agent. Diversity is so much more than race and gender. Those are two very important aspects that cannot be overlooked, but diversity also includes various other dimensions such as: thinking styles, backgrounds, marital status, education levels, socio-economic, religion, sexual orientation and identity, etc., etc., etc.  Diversity is simply the differences among us, whatever they may be.  Those differences make us special. Those differences spur innovation and creativity. Those differences should be leveraged to make us better and stronger. Sadly, those differences can create significant divide. We are seeing this even moreso in our current political environment. As humans, comfort tends to occur when we are surrounded by those most like us…whether it is how we look, what school we went to, what we believe in, how we think, etc. When it feels uncomfortable, we tend to retreat even further into our comfort zones. What the world needs desperately right now is for each of us to challenge ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones. Inclusion is critical. It is an intentional effort to move through the differences and learn more about someone, accept & include someone, even when they are not like us. Every person walks through life with what I refer to as their “backpack of beliefs” on their back. Those are theirs. These backpacks are what create the lens through which a person sees the world. Those backpacks are filled with their life experiences, how they were raised, their opinions, beliefs, etc. That is ok. What is not ok is for us to assume that everyone’s backpacks contain, or should contain, the same things. We must challenge ourselves to be curious. To be open minded enough to learn more about what is in someone else’s backpack. By doing so, we expand our views. We might actually see something in someone else’s pack that broadens our lens, and we might expose someone to something in our pack that broadens theirs. Therefore, we grow. And when you really break it down, we often find we have far more similarities than we do differences. This commercial is a wonderful example of one’s willingness to see something outside of themselves or their own beliefs. Being able to better understand another point of view, even if you don’t agree. That is where empathy lives.  I lift my beer to that. Cheers, Heineken.